This stone is like a sweet cup of jasmine tea on a bright Friday morning. It comes in vividly light yellows for seekers of refreshment, or a mellow ochre—almost earthy orange—for those drawn to more intense flavors. Citrine is a transparent type of quartz that pays its dues for day-to-day use, as it is characterized by excellent wearability.
DID YOU KNOW?
The word citrine was first recorded in English in 1385 to refer to yellow gemstones. It lends its name from the Latin word citrina, which means yellow.
Did you know?
Brazil takes the lead in citrine production. Its southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, literally Great River of the South, is where it is mostly sourced. Spain, Bolivia, France, Russia, Madagascar, and the United States are other regions known for citrine mining. Your own prayer beads might even tell you where exactly they came from, as different geographies yield different shades.
DID YOU KNOW?
THE MERCHANT’S STONE
According to The Encyclopedia of Superstitions, citrine used to be referred to as the “merchant’s stone” or the “money stone,” as it was believed to bring prosperity, wealth, and success.
In medieval times as in modern, and in many parts of the world, citrine’s tawny colour has often caused it to be confused for yellow corundum, or yellow topaz. Citrine would be traded using other names, such as gold topaz, Madeira, or Spanish topaz. The difference between these two unrelated stones has only recently been distinguished in modern gemology. As a matter of fact, experts are convinced that old citrine jewels are still waiting to be discovered by both jewelry collectors and archaeologists alike.
Citrine has occupied a special place in people’s hearts since antiquity. It is said that in Ancient Egypt, the honeylike stone was applied in talismans, Roman priests would wear it in rings, and Ancient Greeks carved iconic images into it. The lemon quartz has even been identified in the hilts of Scottish swords dating back to 150 BC—an application style that would continue throughout the Victorian era. The swords’ owners must have maintained it would protect them in battle. Once differentiated from yellow topaz, citrine became popular in items such as men’s cufflinks and women’s jewelry, and other objects such as snuff boxes. Larger citrine pieces were worn as statement pieces. This day and age, it is still highly praised for its use in pins, pendants, brooches, bracelets, and rings, as it is a type of quartz rarely found in nature.
THE ISLAMIC TRADITION
A most fascinating source on yellow gems—and others—in the Islamic tradition is Z.A. and E.L.’s book Arabian Drugs in Early Medieval Mediterranean Medicine. BasmalaBeads has compiled some of its highlights for you in what follows.
Only after the conquests of Alexander the Great, corundums became widely available in the Middle East. If we take into consideration that yellow corundum (yaqut ˈasfar in Arabic) could have been confused for citrine, historic records teach us that the stone was well-valued in the Middle Ages. Several anecdotes have reached us. One of the soldiers of Musʿab ibn Zubayr, the governor of Basra from 686 to 691, found a golden date tree set with emerald and yellow gems in the treasures of one of the Sasanian kings. Another story tells how al-Radi, the 20th Caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate, took over the palace’s treasuries after his master’s death, including jewels and yellow gems. As red gems were costlier in comparison, mainly the elite and monarchs acquired them. The medieval middle class, on the other hand, could only afford to buy the more affordable yellow and white stones.
We now know that gems were used as ornaments, set in jewellery, seal rings, and amulets. Bought as status symbols, they also served as an investment for times of crisis and disasters. They were applied in medicine, too. One unique narration took place in the court of Harun al-Rashid, the fifth Abbasid Caliph. The mother of Jafar al-Barmaki, the Caliph’s vizier, suffered from high blood pressure. Upon diagnosing her, Jibril ibn Bukhtishuʿ, the vizier’s physician, treated her by drawing blood. In return she gave him a ball and a spoon she used to eat, both made out of a yellow gem. It has been rendered that the physician sold the gifts and lived from the wealth this brought him till his dying day.
In the Unani Tibb tradition, the colour of yellow stones was considered hot and dry. Wearing a yaqut stone was thought to offer protection against the evil eye and epilepsy, and being hit by lightning and plagues. Once ground and drunk, it was assumed to fight feelings of fear, strengthen the heart, and counteract poison. The yellow variety specifically was administered to prevent nightmares and nocturnal emission.
Both the 14th-century mathematician Shihab al-Qalqashandi and the 12th-century writer Ahmad al-Tifashi account a remarkable story in which corundum plays the main role. The inhabitants of Sri Lanka, an important source of gemstones at the time, scattered parts of slaughtered animals at the foot of the mountains whenever they could not find precious stones. Eagles would fly these to their nests on the mountain tops, dropping chunks of meat on their way. These would fall onto the ground and stick to a corundum stone, only to be picked up again by the birds of prey. As the eagle would glide through the sky, the stones would fall down, where people could collect it. A mountain now named Adam’s Peak, where according to common belief the footprint of the first Prophet is found, is where Brahmins discovered a vast variety of corundums. They were collected from the sediments washed down the mountain during floods, and traded through Oman and other ports.